Move over, beef jerky! ConAgra, the food giant behind the popular spicy meat stick Slim Jim, is now turning their attention to plant-based protein.
During their fourth-quarter earnings call, ConAgra CEO Sean Connolly announced that the corporation will be investing more in its plant-based brand Gardein.
“Based on our analysis of product substitution in other categories, almond milk for cow's milk as an example, we can reasonably predict the opportunity for plant-based meat alternatives,” said Connolly, “And here is where it gets really exciting because the opportunity shouldn’t be viewed as just a percentage of fresh meat. We think the opportunity is a percentage of all foods that contain meat.”
Connolly pointed to the increasing success of other companies in the plant-based food industry, projecting that Gardein’s expanding line of plant-based meats could see $30 billion in annual sales in the United States alone.
“The relative size of animal protein consumption serves as a useful guide for how to think about the market opportunity for plant-based alternatives,” Connolly said. “As you can see, burgers are important, but this market extends well beyond beef patties or even beef.”
Connolly highlighted the opportunity to become a plant-based market leader by innovating and broadening its offerings to meet the explosive demand for alternatives to the whole gamut of conventional meat.
Gardein, which ConAgra acquired in 2018 as part of a $10.9 billion transaction, manufactures a wide range of these options, such as seven-grain nuggets, meatless meatballs, fishless filets, and lambless vindaloo. "Gardein is extremely well positioned to capitalize on the rapid growth of plant-based meat alternatives,” Connolly said. “The brand already provides a diversified portfolio of products, particularly in the underappreciated alternative to chicken segment."
Besides answering consumers’ need for chicken made from plants, ConAgra hopes to rapidly augment revenue from groceries and restaurants by developing a “next generation” beef patty to rival the likes of the Impossible Burger. It also intends to launch plant-based sausages and add plant-based proteins to its Healthy Choice ready-to-go meals.
This month, Gardein is releasing 11 new items, including two kinds of patties and a shakshuka breakfast dish, in supermarkets across the country. As the plant protein sector revs up, it’s a promising sign for the future of plant-based meat that major players like ConAgra are stepping up their game.